He was one of the most famous German journalists and was 97 years old. Schneider died Friday night. His books influenced several generations of journalists, and his texts could also be read in NZZ.
Wolf Schneider is dead “A short sentence is greatest at the beginning of a text,” he often said. Schneider’s journalistic career was impressive – Washington correspondent for the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, publishing director of the magazine “Stern”, editor-in-chief of the daily “Die Welt”, director of the Henri Nannen school for journalists in Hamburg – but his life’s work was the preservation of the German language.
He saw them besieged by Anglicisms, bloated with abstractions, bureaucracy and jargon. He hated the German spelling reform of 1996, which pretended to make writing easier for the uneducated – and which only led to spelling anarchy. He was imbued with the belief that words meant something.
Schneider was ruthless but also very funny
He defended German with love and rage, and his derision of chattering colleagues was unrelenting. Generations of journalism students were lucky (or should have been) to receive one of his books as a gift: “German for professionals”, “German for connoisseurs”, “German for advertisers”, “Speak German!”, “The subjunctive wins !» .
But above all, Wolf Schneider was funny. He scathingly criticized adjectives: «Adjectives or epithet . . . are the most overrated and most abused part of speech,” he writes in “German for Professionals”: “The fact that they are largely expendable is shared with filler words (then, even, yes, well, well, of course) – unlike them But filler words that can be easily removed from any text, adjectives do harm.’
And how do those adjectives do it? They produce “tautologies” like “white gray horses” or “black ravens”—but, writes Schneider, “heavy devastation” is no better, because who has ever seen “light devastation”?
Problem with adjectives
Schneider really hated adjectives: “They tend to settle on skinny verbs and chubby nouns like buff.” He loved these fat nouns, especially the short ones. “The primal facts of our life are captured in monosyllabic words,” he writes: “skin and hair, head and heel, hand on heart—house and yard, bed and table, stable and horse, mountain and valley, forest and field, river and sea , ice and snow, day and night.”
The brevity of these words not only makes them easy to understand, but also powerful, writes Schneider, quoting British Prime Minister and Nobel laureate Winston Churchill: “Old words are the best; and the old short words are the best.”
Wolf Schneider was able to speak passionately about Churchill’s “blood, sweat and tears” speech of May 13, 1940, when England stood alone against an almost invincible Hitler: “Churchill had nothing to offer the English until blood, drudgery, tears and sweat – and the four monosyllables got under their skin.”
“Blood loss,” “sweating” and “overtime” would likely motivate them as little as “lots of inconvenience,” Schneider notes sarcastically.
He was afraid of gender talk
Our times must have been tough for Wolf Schneider lately. By his own admission, he had a “combative relationship” with state-mandated gender language. He found neologisms such as “left-wing lawyer”, “left-wing fascist”, “drug dealer” and “hereditary sneaker” absurd. But the many false subjunctive moods and lost cases must have hurt him at least as much, the inveterate language of ministers and deputies, chatter on the Internet, the campaign to destroy pictograms against words.
Schneider also worked for the NZZ. From 1991 to 2013, he published numerous articles and columns in both the daily and the “Folio”.
Wolf Schneider died at the age of 97 and there is no one like him.